Cover image for This is biology : the science of the living world
This is biology : the science of the living world
Mayr, Ernst, 1904-2005.
Personal Author:
First Harvard University Press paperback edition.
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998.

Physical Description:
xix, 323 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Originally published: Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1997.
What is the meaning of "life? -- What is science? -- How does science explain the natural world? -- How does biology explain the living world? -- Does science advance? -- How are the life sciences structured? -- "What" questions: the study of biodiversity -- "How" questions: the making of a new individual -- "Why" questions: the evolution of organisms -- What questions does ecology ask -- Where do humans fit into evolution? -- Can evolution account for ethics?
Subject Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QH307.2 .M39 1997C Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
QH307.2 .M39 1997C Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
QH307.2 .M39 1997C Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Biology until recently has been the neglected stepchild of science, and many educated people have little grasp of how biology explains the natural world. Yet to address the major political and moral questions that face us today, we must acquire an understanding of their biological roots. This magisterial new book by Ernst Mayr will go far to remedy this situation. An eyewitness to this century's relentless biological advance and the creator of some of its most important concepts, Mayr is uniquely qualified to offer a vision of science that places biology firmly at the center, and a vision of biology that restores the primacy of holistic, evolutionary thinking.

As he argues persuasively, the physical sciences cannot address many aspects of nature that are unique to life. Living organisms must be understood at every level of organization; they cannot be reduced to the laws of physics and chemistry. Mayr's approach is refreshingly at odds with the reductionist thinking that dominated scientific research earlier in this century, and will help to redirect how people think about the natural world.

This Is Biology can also be read as a "life history" of the discipline--from its roots in the work of Aristotle, through its dormancy during the Scientific Revolution and its flowering in the hands of Darwin, to its spectacular growth with the advent of molecular techniques. Mayr maps out the territorial overlap between biology and the humanities, especially history and ethics, and carefully describes important distinctions between science and other systems of thought, including theology. Both as an overview of the sciences of life and as the culmination of a remarkable life in science, This Is Biology will richly reward professionals and general readers alike.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

The simplicity of its title belies the complexity of this book, which requires attentive reading even by professional biologists. Nonetheless, Mayr, emeritus professor of zoology at Harvard and a major contributor to contemporary evolutionary understanding, manages to condense the involved history of biological thought into this treatise. In this respect, the book should interest the general educated reader. In the more polemical passages, Mayr tries to explicate the perspective of a practicing biologist to philosophers of science. Mayr promotes a view of knowledge acquisition called evolutionary epistemology, which suggests that human understanding evolves like life itself, i.e. that while chance reigns supreme in the origination of ideas, those that survive are the ones that best serve their adherents over time. In the thought-provoking final chapters, Mayr enlarges upon an earlier statement: "Our [success in] dealing with racial discrimination, crime, drug addiction, homelessness... will depend... on our understanding of their biological roots." He promotes an ethic of "evolutionary humanism" and suggests that children be inculcated with the attitude that "one should never do anything to one's environment... which would make life more difficult for future generations." Extensive notes, bibliography, glossary, topic guide and index all contribute to the academic usefulness of the book. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Mayr (zoology, Harvard; One Long Argument, LJ 10/1/91) offers a critical overview of the major concepts and issues surrounding biology from Aristotle to the present in terms of emergence and organicism. He stresses both the uniqueness and the importance of the life sciences, distinguishing between ultimate and proximate causations in organic history. Rejecting vitalism, teleology, essentialism, and supernaturalism, he focuses on "population thinking" as well as variation and selection within a neo-Darwinian worldview. Special attention is given to the philosophy of science, especially the ideas of progress and limits. Other topics include genetics, cytology, evolution, development, and biodiversity. The excellent chapters on ethics, ecology, and human evolution emphasize the value of scientific evolutionism. Unfortunately, Mayr does not discuss exobiology, molecular biology, or genetic engineering, and more illustrations (there is only one) would have been helpful. Recommended for academic and large public biology collections.‘H. James Birx, Canisius Coll. Lib., Buffalo, N.Y. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Guide to Topics Covered
What Is the Meaning of Life?
What Is Science?
How Does Science Explain the Natural World?
How Does Biology Explain the Living World?
Does Science Advance?
How Are the Life Sciences Structured?
""What?"" Questions: The Study of Biodiversity
""How?"" Questions: The Making of a New Individual
""Why?"" Questions: The Evolution of Organisms
What Questions Does Ecology Ask?
Where Do Humans Fit into Evolution?
Can Evolution Account for Ethics?
Glossary Gu